Closet secrets

Amanda Austin in her closet, which has plenty of natural lighting thanks to several windows.
Amanda Austin in her closet, which has plenty of natural lighting thanks to several windows. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

Remember when a walk-in closet was considered a luxury item in a home? Now, what makes any fashion fan salivate is the idea of a closet room. Baltimore interior designer Amanda Austin says more and more homeowners are converting a room to a closet.

"No one likes to dig for things; having things stashed underneath the bed," says Austin, who has created her own closet room. "I do think people are willing to have a smaller bedroom for a larger closet. ... I think everybody wishes to live in a state of convenience and bliss."

Having a big room in which to hang and organize your wardrobe is the obvious convenience. But the bliss for many closet lovers doesn't come just from the clothes. It comes from the design features, favorite collections and keepsakes in those rooms.

Amanda Austin

Amanda Austin, owner of Amanda Austin Interiors, loves living in airy openness. Just because she lives in Federal Hill doesn't mean she has to feel confined. She says natural lighting is her "oxygen."

To that end, Austin has made sure her closet has plenty of that element, with windows on two sides — one with a window seat that she sometimes uses for reading. Shelves next to it hold some precious mementos.

There's a practical side for her very open closet, as well. She needs to see everything in it.

"If I don't see it, then I don't know I have it," she says.

That means seeing clothes for all seasons. In her work, Austin travels a lot for business, going to warmer or colder climates and needing to pack appropriately.

Shelves above the clothing reveal some of her favorite collections. "I love wraps, pashminas and purses. I want them to be easily accessible."

Austin also loves color, which is why she likes to set out all of her multihued shoes. Those shoes seem to reflect her dislike for confinement: Nearly all of them are open-toed.

There's another kind of openness to her closet. Austin likes to share her clothes with her girlfriends.

"When they go out or are going to a special event, they always say they're going to 'shop at Amanda's boutique,'" she says. "But sharing brings me great happiness."

Austin says she's not the trendy type, preferring clothes that have a certain effortless function and timeless look.

"One needs to know how to spend your money. So, it's knowing how to invest and when. And knowing when not to."

Chuck Nabit

Chuck Nabit is known for his fun sense of style. When out on the town, the CEO of Westport Group, a diversified investment company, is not afraid to have fun with colorful shirts and sports jackets. It's a trait he believes is inherited.

"It's a statement; a way to express yourself," he says. "I grew up with a mother who had great flair. I saw how she expressed her own sense of self and creativity in what she wore. I guess it's in the genes."

Another strong fashion influence comes from Nabit's second home in Miami's South Beach.

"I don't wear suits and ties that often. My preference is not to. In Florida, you don't," he says.

But it's different in Maryland. "So many people here wear the 'uniform' of the club tie and the blue suit," says Nabit. "They're comfortable with that because they don't have to think about it. They just get up and put on the uniform."

When he and his wife, Mary Kay, bought and renovated a 1927 Roland Park house, he took over a small series of rooms and turned them into a "man suite" — as he jokingly refers to it. A small room serves as his main closet, with cupboard closets where he keeps his shoes, sweaters and T-shirts. Hallways on either side of the room lead to his bathroom or his home office.

"Clothes are like friends. They're familiar and comforting," says Nabit, who acknowledges he finds it tough to cull his closet, something interior designer Alexander Baer also understood when he designed the space.

"He's a clotheshorse, so he understood the need."

But it's not the clothing in his closet that brings Nabit the most comfort and familiarity in this "man suite" center. It's the photos of family — his wife, daughter Grace, 5, and son, Alex, 4, his mom and dad — and memorabilia from his travels that matter most.

"The clothes I'm not overly attached to. The people and places I've been; that's what matters to me."

Jane Smith

When Jane Smith and her husband, David Smith, Sinclair Broadcasting president/CEO, built their Cockeysville home five years ago, what was most important about her closet wasn't being able to see everything at one glance. She wanted it to be a space that was both warm and elegant.

That's why she had Baltimore artisan Donald Bayne, owner of Bayne's Quality Custom Furniture, create the woodwork for the three areas that form a walk-through closet. She added a few girly touches to reflect her own personality, and then filled the exposed spaces with some of her favorite things — which weren't necessarily clothes.

Most of those things are related to her husband and daughter, Samantha Dinges, 22, who now lives in Los Angeles and works as a costumer.

It isn't just the memorabilia that imparts a warm and fuzzy feeling in her closet. She has two Lhasa apsos — Winston and Paris — who follow her everywhere.

As for the apparel in her closet, don't expect to find only high-end designer duds. Smith, a Texas native, spends a lot of time in denim.

"During the day, I'm a jeans-and-sweater girl. But I also love going out wearing a heel and being dressed up for dinner," says Smith, who recently launched an interior decorating business, Bespoke Designs. "When I get designer pieces, it's because I like the piece. Not because it's [by a certain] designer."

She says she generally goes for the classics — pieces that won't go quickly out of style.

"I'm more of a solids [person], not so much into patterns. I look better with a clean line. I don't buy things that make look like I'm trying to be my daughter's age," she says. "I love vintage. I like the one-of-a-kind. The key is to [wear it, then put it away] and bring it out when everyone else has forgotten it."

Inside Amanda Austin's closet

Little stuffed bunny. The small toy, a gift from her father who passed away when she was 16, has a special place front and center on a closet shelf. "It was a gift from my dad. He didn't wait for a special occasion to give something or surprise [me]. My dad was always so warm and loving and delighting in giving."

Louis Vuitton cashmere wrap. If she could rescue just one article of clothing from a burning closet it would be this. "I don't like to wear coats during the winter. They feel too confining. This is my favorite winter wrap. It can fold into the smallest evening bag. And Louis Vuitton doesn't make this particular one anymore."

Dresses. Austin loves dresses, and wears them almost every day. She's particularly fond of one-shouldered or strapless frocks, which she'll wear year round. She purchased a Vivienne Tam teal satin dress from one of her favorite local boutiques, Form.

Peacocks. She's passionate about peacocks. Her built-in center island is decorated with framed peacock feathers. And if she sees something with the peacock motif, it's likely to end up in her closet. She bought a green Ali Ro dress from Cupcake because it had a peacock feather on it. And a peacock feather necklace has taken on a life of its own. "Every time I wear this necklace, someone would complement me on it. So, I bought about 20 of them from modcloth.com. Now every time someone compliments me, I give it to him or her."

Cigar box handbags. Another favorite is her collection of cigar boxes that have been converted to purses. "I love the mixed use aspect to anything. Appreciating something for what it's been, but giving it another life."

Inside Chuck Nabit's closet

Colorful shirts. He loves really wild prints and bold colors. "My favorite shirt guys are Robert Graham and Etro. ... I like cool clothes. Why should women have all the fun?"

Alexander McQueen sports coat. "The last time I wore it was at the Baltimore School for the Arts' 'Expressions!' [gala]," Nabit says of the coat he purchased in Las Vegas. "It was an artsy event. I wore it with a black collared shirt and pants."

Samurai fighting suit from Thailand. Made of olive brocade, it's more a memento than an outfit. "We went on a tear when we were there because you can get all sorts of things made. … But the brocade really isn't practical. I discovered that silk doesn't breathe very well. It's good for drapes. Not so good for clothes. But it looks good."

Clothes chest. Over the years, he's collected crafts pieces from the American Craft Council Show that runs at the Baltimore Convention Center every February. This chest is one of those pieces, where he keeps his collections of glasses and cufflinks. On top is a leather mask from a New Orleans artist and two champagne corks. One is from a bottle he and his wife popped when his daughter was born in 2005. The second is from the wine cellar at a restaurant in Vancouver. "They take out a big sword and slice off the top of the champagne."

Artwork. He keeps a painting of his father's grandparents. The needlepoint positioned below was done by the woman in the painting, his father's grandmother.

Inside Jane Smith's closet

Dressing table and chandelier. "I love this vanity. I found it in New Orleans because of my grandmother [who lived there]. I surround myself with family photos. ...The chandelier here is an antique from New Metal Crafts in Chicago."

Swarovski crystals. Handles and knobs in the closet are embellished with the tiny gems. "I wanted a little feminine touch."

High-heeled shoes. Smith loves shoes — but only the high-heeled versions. "I don't know why. To me, they're art. They're gorgeous, even though you hardly walk in some [of them]. I don't wear flats. I grew up in Texas. We had either boots or heels." She considers a pair of Jack Rogers clogs from The Little Shoebox to be essential. "I run around in them every day."

Chanel dress. Smith wore it to a recent party. "It's special because David and I found it in Paris seven years ago. This is something I'll be giving my daughter."

Vintage evening bags. She loves to collect vintage evening bags, some of which she has displayed on glass shelves in her closet. "I love vintage bags. You can't get away with collecting [vintage] shoes," she says, showing off a cherished purse that was a gift. "This is a bag that my mom gave me. It's a white beaded evening bag from Hutzler's."

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